What I learned at my Design Internship

The date was April 10th 2010 and I was reflecting on my recent design internship at a local cosmetic company. The internship lasted 11 weeks and by the end of it, I had a completely different understanding of what the work force would be like when I got out.

Here are some things that still ring true today:

Entry level design work is not what you expect
After you graduate from design school, you expect that you’ll be given all this responsibility because in school, you were forced to do everything yourself. In reality, you will be given the easiest production jobs and it will probably feel unfulfilling and frustrating. You will look at what your boss is doing or some other fellow designers are doing and feel envious and resentful.

Here’s the truth: yes, you probably are could handle more challenging work, but when you start out, the company who hired you will not take a huge risk by giving you a major project until they know how quickly you work, how well you think, and if you can make quality work that fits their brand.

What can you do? Suck it up, be humble and grateful for the work you’re given and always offer to do more. Your company will see that rather than act entitled, you are taking initiative and are ready for more responsibility.

You will learn how you work in a group or by yourself
My internship was for a small company out of a woman’s house. The owner was a loud, pushy extrovert and at the end of the day, she would put on a brainstorming session and snap her fingers trying to get us to come up with new ideas. I HATED this part of the day. It stressed me to my very core. Whenever she would force these “talk out loud” brainstorming sessions on us, I would freeze up. My mind would go blank and she would glare at me for not having anything to add. It made for a very uncomfortable work environment.

I learned later on that this happened to me because I am an introvert, and in order to brainstorm, I need to be given time to think about things in my head first. ¬†This became invaluable as I’ve moved forward in my career. I’ve told my co-workers and my clients that I don’t generally throw ideas out without being given time to think and research. I even let interviewers know that I’m an introvert and I need time to think things through in my head before offering up my recommendations, and they always say “that’s fine”. It’s good to know how you work so that you can give people a heads up.

Internships will still help you get a job
I came out of my internship experience feeling that it was a waste of time. It was unpaid, and it was supposed to be for “school credit”, which meant that I was supposed to learn something. At the time I couldn’t see that I HAD learned things, just not new design skills. I had learned about how to be on a team, how small companies rely heavily on every player, and how I think and research projects. Regardless of what I felt back then, that internship was another line on my resume. It helped me get jobs in the beauty and retail industry.

To all of those out there who are avoiding getting an internship because the work is unpaid, just do it. Put in your time, be humble and grateful for the opportunity and try and get a stellar review from your boss out of it. All of those things will help you when it comes to getting the next job.



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